What to do if you see an elephant in distress

We are often contacted by concerned tourists in Thailand who have seen an elephant in a seemingly distressing situation.


Across Asia, there are many elephants in situations that seem cruel, but are not illegal or unacceptable according to culture or tradition. It is therefore incredibly difficult to complain about supposed abuse, and even more difficult to rescue an elephant and send them to a sanctuary. Read our sections on Asian Elephants for more details on this complex matter.

However, that's not to say you should do nothing if you are concerned about an elephant's welfare. We have consulted with our contacts in Thailand and compiled a list of actions you can take to help. 

1. Consider starting a petition. Care2 and Change are the most popular platforms.

  • Once you've created a petition, explain the elephants' situation. Make the copy short, concise, and to the point. See example.

  • Gather as much high-quality footage and photographs as you can. High-quality is better (even if it’s just filmed on a phone) because it shows the suffering, but if this isn’t possible, any footage is good *

  • Contact Care2 asking if they can support and promote your petition. Mention that you have footage that they can use for free.

  • When the petition goes live, contact press with the details. Include as much information as you can, footage (and photos if possible). 

  • Once you have done this, play it by ear and see how the campaign goes. Reaching out to animal charities such as Thailand Elephants and others, and elephant sanctuaries to share the story can also be fruitful. 

* Take as many pictures, videos and notes as you can. If you can get close enough, get pictures of any scars, evidence of physical abuse or psychological distress (head bobbing, pacing, etc). Note how the elephant is shackled (if so), if he has access to shade, fresh water, food (long grass, bamboo, fruit etc), and if he is in a group or on his own. 


2. Begging elephants are illegal in some parts of Thailand, so if you think the elephant is being used for this purpose, it's possible to complain to the Local Livestock Manager (elephants are considered to be livestock in Thailand). However, the report will need to be in Thai. It will need to be factual, try not to use emotive language; the Thais know Westerners frown on how some elephants are treated, but they do not see it this way. Please contact us if you need help with this. 

3. Report your concerns to Born Free's Red Flag campaign.  


4. Report your concerns to WFFT.

4. Share the elephant's story and plight with as many people as you can: your followers on social media, your friends, colleagues and family. Share this website on what elephants and other wild animals endure in the name of tourism and how you can ensure any sanctuary or venue you visit is ethical. 

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